Robert White
Robert White

Robert White Responds

I would like to make clear, for the public record, that I no longer agree with the tone and much of the content of my contributions to the Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand debate. This debate took place in The Free Radical from June/July 1999 to May/June 2000. Six years have now passed. In the intervening time, I have come to rethink many of the issues raised in the debate. I still do not accept the legitimacy of feminist interpretations of Rand (or anyone else). However, I now accept that despite its flaws, the anthology represents a significant recognition of the legitimacy of Rand studies. I also now take the position that the tone of my contributions, including many of my statements and accusations, were inappropriate and unscholarly. I, therefore, repudiate these articles. I appreciate the continued interest in the Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand debate. However, I ask that anyone citing my contributions make it clear that these articles do not represent my current position on, or approach to, philosophical issues.

Robert White

1 May 2006

My review, in TFR #36, of Mimi Reisel Gladstein's and Chris Matthew Sciabarra's anthology, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, has received responses from Will Wilkinson of the Institute for Objectivist Studies (see above) and Dr. Sciabarra, one of the book's editors (see TFR #36). I will reply to Mr. Wilkinson first, since his objections address more fundamental issues, and then I will respond to Dr. Sciabarra's specific charges.

The IOS Strikes Back

Will Wilkinson claims that my review was "poorly reasoned and ill tempered." I had claimed that the IOS and associates were "transforming [Objectivism] into a mealy-mouthed, irrationally tolerant, Pollyannaistic, passionless carcass of its former self ." Mr. Wilkinson, in response, claims that the publication of books, such as Feminist Interpretations, is not a "bad thing," because it "disseminate[s] Objectivism to a broader audience." Excuse me? Did he say disseminate Objectivism?! That Frankenstein-like contortion of feminist synthesism and camp feminist aesthetics being peddled in Feminist Interpretations is not Objectivism.

Mr. Wilkinson states that Feminist Interpretations will increase "Rand's intellectual currency" and enable "those [of] us who understand [Rand's] views to enter into public debate with those who don't ." I claimed in my review that Feminist Interpretations was increasing the intellectual currency not of Ayn Rand, but of some unrecognisable monstrosity. The obvious implication is that any "public debate" will not be about Objectivism, but about Dr. Gladstein's and Dr. Sciabarra's nightmare projection of an academically acceptable "Objectivism."

Mr. Wilkinson then claims that Kelly Rogers' statement, at an IOS seminar, that the term "selfishness" should be discarded doesn't cast "a shadow of disrepute on the whole Institute," because it is a virtue to allow "divergence from 'the party line.'" Here we see the mentality of the IOS "Objectivist." Objectivism as an "open" system — where there's disagreement over issues within the framework of the philosophy's basic principles — has come to mean tolerance towards the dissemination of nonsense, be it in the form of Kelly Rogers or "camp" interpretations of Ayn Rand's novels.

Mr. Wilkinson seems concerned by the fact that I presented only two pieces of evidence for my "serious charges" against the I.O.S. Well, here are a couple more:

1) Roger Donway, in response to complaints [!!!] by readers that Navigator's "Soundings" feature is like a "Horror File," writes, "[A] ratio of three-to-one [in favour of 'bad news'] is certainly sufficient to recall the 'Horror File,' and that is something David Kelley and I determined at the start of Navigator that we did not want to do. We wanted the column to provide true 'soundings' of the culture as it is. What has happened?" I can tell Mr. Donway what has happened: the culture is fucked; and trying to evade this fact is a direct contradiction of Objectivist principles.

2) Carolyn Ray wrote a review, for Navigator, of Nathaniel Branden's The Art of Living Consciously, in which she criticised Dr. Branden for his "insults," "blatant name-calling" and his "slashing rhetorical style." What did Dr. Branden write that Dr. Ray found so offensive? He called men who resent the word profit "glowering, cassocked Rip van Winkles who still think they are living in the year 1200." Listeners to Lindsay Perigo's radio show — who hear much more virulent "insults" and "blatant name-calling" every day — will be wondering why Dr. Ray is more offended by a "slashing rhetorical style" than she is by men who resent the word "profit."

There are many more examples that I could mention — such as Dr. Kelley's capitulation to Robert Nola in the Perigo/Nola debate, or the dizzy bitch who said, on an IOS discussion list, that she was frightened by Nathaniel Branden's use of the word "evil" in a 1960s lecture — but I'm short on space, so I'll move on to Mr. Wilkinson's other complaints.

Mr. Wilkinson refers to my "facile way with epithets like 'second- hander' and 'Peter Keating.'" He claims that "Genuinely independent minds rarely help themselves so readily to other thinkers' signature expressions." Wow! We can't even call second-handers "second-handers" anymore! Are "existence exists" and "A is A" out too? After all, they were also expressions employed by Ayn Rand.

I also reject Mr. Wilkinson's statement that "one's form of expression" can be divorced from the "content of the views one expresses." Consider, for instance, the following excerpt from Nathaniel Branden's memoir Judgment Day: "Ideas mattered to [Ayn Rand]. No one could understand her who did not understand her conviction concerning the supreme importance of philosophy. If, for example, she heard a statement to the effect that man has no right to exist for his own sake, but exists only to serve society, or the state, or the race, or the planet — or if she heard a statement to the effect that reason is impotent to know reality, or that all value judgments are ultimately arbitrary, or that notions of good and evil are merely expressions of subjective emotion — she saw, concretely and specifically, the oceans of human blood that were spilled as a consequence of such beliefs — she saw Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia — and she reacted accordingly."

The content of Ayn Rand's views — her theory of concepts, her rejection of the mind-body dichotomy, her view of justice, her view of the role of philosophy in history, and so on — meant that her form of expression could be either vehemently condemnatory or patiently nurturing, depending on whether she judged a person evil or innocently mistaken. There was no dichotomy, in other words, between the content of her views and the form of her expression, anymore than there was a dichotomy between her rational faculty and her emotions, or between her mind and body. Ideas mattered to Ayn Rand because of the ideas she held.

The final paragraph of Mr. Wilkinson's criticisms indicate that the IOS is unrepentant in its drive towards academic respectability. He writes, "It is impossible that striving within academia to refute prevailing views and advance Objectivist ones could constitute a positive sanction (or 'irrational tolerance') of those one is acting to refute." Who could disagree? — if one takes Mr. Wilkinson's statement out of context. Remember that "to refute prevailing views and advance Objectivist ones" means, for Mr. Wilkinson, the publication of trash like Feminist Interpretations. Advancing Objectivist views does not constitute a positive sanction; advancing "Ayn Rand — The Great Feminist Synthesist" does.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra's Defence of the Indefensible

Dr. Sciabarra rejects my accusation that he is a second-hander seeking academic respectability. Yet, observe that Dr. Sciabarra states that he is intentionally framing Ayn Rand's philosophy in terms of the "given context," which means in terms that are acceptable to modern academics. The standard by which Dr. Sciabarra judges how to represent Ayn Rand is not by reference to reality, but to what other people — what modern academics — what those scum who hovel in subsidised classrooms — find acceptable. That is second-handedness, and calling me "narrow-minded" won't erase this fact.

Dr. Sciabarra writes, "[Valérie] Loiret-Prunet's central point is not a linguistic one . but a substantive one, that Kira transcends the dualities at work in the souls of Andrei and Leo, and that this model of human integration stands as a foil to both collectivism and atomism." Oh well, that changes everything. Ayn Rand was a feminist synthesist after all! I'll translate for the ironically-challenged: bollocks. Loiret-Prunet's excrement about Kira's transcendence was no more worthy of mention that her excrement about the number of times "images of three" appear in We the Living.

Dr. Sciabarra then writes, "[Karen] Michalson herself challenges [myths of the Great Mother Goddess] as part of an overall challenge to left- wing feminists who have corrupted the culture with their visions of woman as victim." True, but Michalson does not reject myths as such, only that particular myth, and like many modern feminists her work, at times, breaks into the language of myth. Michalson fails to challenge the way feminists have employed myth as a substitute for rational argument. Her essay would have been much better if she had dropped the myths and focused, instead, on showing why Dagny Taggart is one of the strongest "heroes" in Western literature.

Dr. Sciabarra claims that I completely ignore such writers as Joan Kennedy Taylor, Sharon Presley and Diana Mertz Brickell, among others, who are "quite sympathetic to Rand, and willing to use her philosophic contributions in a way that undermines the collectivist status quo within feminism." I did not ignore them; I stated that they "left me sighing in resignation and disgust." Dr. Sciabarra claims that these authors are undermining the collectivist status quo, but that is his estimate, not mine. I do not consider the fact that the authors claim to be sympathetic to Ayn Rand a sufficient excuse to offer feminist interpretations of her work, anymore than I would consider it a sufficient excuse for Homosexualist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, Paraplegist Interpretations of Ayn Rand or Leatherclad-Biker-Babe-ist Interpretations of Ayn Rand.

Finally, Dr. Sciabarra claims that "one must be willing to provide alternative texts for colleges that engage both academics and students within the given context, while subtly shifting the terms of debate as a means of altering that context fundamentally." I don't want to subtly alter the given context; I want to take a sledgehammer to it. Dr. Sciabarra, however, is correct is one respect: we can learn from the success of the Left. The Left may have milked the "internal contradictions" of the system it sought to destroy, as Dr. Sciabarra claims, but it did so as it marched forward with all the ferociousness of a jack-booted lesbian. We are fighting a war. Not a metaphorical war; a literal war — only our tools of combat are syllogisms, not bullets.

Objectivism, as Dr. Kelley once observed — but seems, unfortunately, to have forgotten — is a fighting creed.

Robert White
Centre for Objectivist Studies:
P.O. Box 7581, Wellesley Street, Auckland
09 373 7599 ext. 5908

Next: Chris Sciabarra steps into the ring.

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